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Pinball FX2 VR: Eyes-on at GDC 2016

Zen Studios' foray into virtual pinball was met with some cautious optimism when it was revealed last week, particularly from us here at Shacknews. The idea of VR pinball sounds somewhat absurd, but for those that have limited exposure to live tables, it sounds like a decent idea. Earlier this week, Shacknews was invited by Zen to try out the upcoming Pinball FX2 VR and after sampling all three tables, the appeal is much more evident.

Pinball FX2 VR is an admitted trial run for Zen, with only three tables available at the start: Secrets of the Deep, Epic Quest, and Mars. So I had an idea of what to expect when I strapped on an Oculus Rift and, sure enough, I was placed in a virtual living room with three pinball tables placed before me. I was able to select a table by looking straight at it and that took me to the actual virtual pinball interface.

The virtual pinball looks every bit as animated here as it does on the Pinball FX2 PC, console, and mobile versions. The graphics don't lose much in the translation to VR, though there were a few moments where I noticed some blurry textures. At first, I couldn't get the full table in my field of view, requiring me to scoot my chair back to get the full scope of the table in front of my eyes. Once I had an Xbox One controller, it was off to experience the Pinball FX2 experience, albeit with a first-person view. While the controls are exactly the same, there's more of an illusion of being at an actual pinball table.

But the true VR scope did not kick in until I raised my head after losing my first ball with Secrets of the Deep. I raised my head and realized the the virtual living room was now submerged underwater, with fish floating around me. The environment of the table was now matching my surroundings, offering a greater sense of immersion. When I lost my final ball, a shark swam around my head and briefly lunged towards me. That's the bonus pleasure of Pinball FX2 VR and the kind of thing that the current versions cannot offer. The extra VR bells and whistles are some keen touches that make the experience just a little more fun.

There were similar changes with other tables, as well. Epic Quest took me to the medieval fantasy forest, where the table's brave knight would gallop around me in a circle whenever I launched a ball. He'd also occasionally make gestures whenever I'd reach certain scores or hit certain places on the table. Meanwhile, Mars would take me into deep space, with asteroids and a lone space vessel surrounding my head. The vessel would take a nosedive and explode in a burst of smoke whenever I'd lose my ball.

That's all on top of the novelty of seeing the original Pinball FX special effects in a first-person view. It'll be exciting to see if Zen Studios can bring this to its other pinball tables, but they acknowledged that these first three tables are acting as a tryout for whether future VR tables are worth the effort. The studio will actively be taking player feedback, not only to see if it's worth bringing older tables to Oculus Rift, but also to other virtual platforms like Vive and PlayStation VR. Zen Studios is also considering whether to developer future tables with VR in mind and potentially release newer tables day and date on both VR and non-VR platforms.

It won't take long for users to try out Pinball FX2 VR, with the first three tables set to release on Oculus Rift on the headset's launch day later this month. Where Zen Studios goes from there remains to be seen.

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